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Smoking Damages Reproductive Health

Report finds pervasive effects on men, women and babies

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 11, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A new British report says cigarette smoking causes damage throughout a person's reproductive years and reduces the chance of having healthy children.

The report advises anyone planning to have kids to stamp out that cigarette butt once and for all.

The report, a comprehensive look at more than two decades of studies on smoking and reproduction, concludes that the damaging effects of smoking occur throughout a person's reproductive life, from puberty to young adulthood and into middle age. This was true of both men and women.

"There are so many aspects where smoking impacts our health -- 50 or 60 damaging aspects, of which there are many that can kill," says report author Dr. Sinead Jones, director of the British Medical Association's Tobacco Control Resource Centre. "So the evidence of fertility and conception -- for example, both male and female fertility -- was important for us to highlight."

It finds women who smoke take longer to conceive, and also will find their chances of conception reduced by up to 40 percent per cycle.

Also, both men and women may have less response to fertility treatments when they smoke, thereby jeopardizing the possibility of having a family.

"Men are twice as likely to be infertile and to have damaged DNA in their sperm," Jones says. "And with women, we found higher incidences of miscarriages."

The report says that between 3,000 and 5,000 miscarriages per year in the United Kingdom can be directly linked to smoking.

It also found that 120,000 men in England between the ages of 30 and 50 are impotent due to smoking. Moreover, every year smoking is implicated in around 1,200 cases of malignant cervical cancer in women.

According to the report, there is conclusive evidence that women smokers face a variety of ailments: a higher risk of heart disease when taking contraceptive pills; early menopause; and cervical cancer. The danger is passed on to the child, too: placental complications; premature membrane rupture; premature and low birth weight babies; and perinatal death.

Babies whose mothers smoked had a higher risk of SIDS, middle-ear disease, respiratory illnesses, developing asthma in those previously unaffected, and suffering asthma attacks in those already affected.

The more tobacco the person consumed the greater the adverse effect, the report notes, and stopping smoking dramatically reduced the effects.

"This report clearly shows the devastating impact of smoking on generations to come," says Deborah Arnott, director of the British anti-smoking organization Action on Smoking and Health. "Stopping smoking should be the number one priority for anyone who wants to have children."

"This is important not just to increase the chances of conception but also to give your child the best start in life," she continues. "More than 17,000 children are hospitalized every year [in the U.K.] because of respiratory problems caused by their exposure to parents' smoke. By stopping smoking, parents will not only improve their own health but will lessen the chances of their children developing illnesses such as asthma and pneumonia."

But the report finds good news in the growing trends towards eliminating tobacco advertising and promoting smoke-free legislation in many areas, such as in the United States and in many European cities.

"Our government has a long way to go," Jones says. "We find that they are very complacent on the issue."

More information

Learn about the impact of smoking on women from the National Women's Health Information Center. You can read the report by visiting the British Medical Association.

SOURCES: Sinead Jones, M.D., director, Tobacco Control Resource Centre, British Medical Association, London; Deborah Arnott, director, Action on Smoking and Health, London; Feb. 11, 2004, British Medical Association report, Smoking and Reproductive Life: The Impact of Smoking on Sexual, Reproductive and Child Health
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